A while ago, I wrote a piece called “Abused Kids Get to Look Like Their Bullies“:
On countless mornings, I glimpse my reflection in the mirror and want to punch myself in the face.
Because I look like her at certain angles.
Her chin, strong but not square. Her awkward smile. Deep brown eyes.
I wear my bully’s face every day of my life, like a kind of grotesque mask.
We live in a world where it’s easy to doubt whether other people find you attractive. Where it’s easy to pick apart every aspect of your physical appearance.
And for those who were abused by their parents and physically resemble them, there’s a whole other layer added on top of this baseline anxiety, the fundamental worries most people entertain at one time or another:”Am I enough? Do I look good enough? Will I drive other people away unless I spend thousands of dollars trying to influence something that I can’t exactly control?”
Due to genetics. Scars of living. All of that.
In addition to this fairly common brand of insecurity, I’ve also had to make peace with the fact that I see hints of a face of a person who terrified me when I was a child reflected back in the glass every time I look in the mirror. Or snap a selfie. Or see a photo someone has taken of me.
You know, it hasn’t always been easy. But baby steps, right? Makeup helps. Developing my own sense of personal style. And trying to smile as much as possible, working those muscles into a different shape than the disappointed frown my doppelganger always sported.
And in any event, it’s a surface similarity, this physical resemblance. I know rationally that it doesn’t matter. It’s not, after all, what I’m truly afraid of. What keeps me up at night.
What I really worry about is that I’m turning into her on the inside.
That one day I’ll wake up an exact clone of her in attitude and behavior.
The Worry That You’ll Turn Into Your Parents
It’s a common worry for a lot of people, the subject of lighthearted jokes, turning into your parents. Everyone turns into their parents someday, don’t ya know? It’s a humorous inflection point, everything coming full circle.
But when you grew up being more scared of your parent than you were of any movie monster, it’s a different proposition. That worry stops feeling lighthearted. Emotionally, it begins to feel like life and death.
I’ve done a ton of work on myself, on making sure to build up distress tolerance and self-control to help me deal more or less maturely with whatever life would throw at me. Endeavored to build empathy for other people. Made a conscious effort to give those closest to me the benefit of the doubt.
All things she never did.
But part of me sometimes worry that one day I’ll wake up and all of that will be gone. That I’ll catch myself in the middle of an abhorrent new norm, powerless to stop it.
That Realization That Maybe I Have, Just Not in the Way That I Expected
But it’s yet to happen. I haven’t become my mother… or have I?
Because I’m taking a shower one day, fighting some demons in my head, listening to a persistent internal emotional voice that loves to tell me that I’m not good enough. That I don’t deserve anything good that has happened to me or anyone who loves me. Who tells me that everyone secretly hates me, I just don’t know it yet.
When I check in with my partner about it later, honestly letting them know it’s been a rough day for the old brain weasels, they tell me, “Your brain is a very mean parent. You’re not mediocre. Your mean brain just SAYS you are, in order to perform some weird punishment or keep you in your ‘station’ much like your mother used to.”
And it dawns on me then… maybe I haven’t become my mother in my external behavior, the way I interact with the world outside of me and with others. Maybe I’m not someone who screams at others or pressures them, demanding that they give me a particular response, insisting that they live up to some responsibility for upkeeping my emotional state that they never asked to take on.
But she’s definitely a part of me and always will be, whether I want her to be or not.
Because that’s her voice inside my head.
In spite of everything, I’ve managed to become her, in a sense. Just on the inside, where I’m a menace to myself instead of to others.
The good news about this realization is that instead of defeating me, it makes me trust this mean inner emotional voice even less. And makes me want to work a little harder to silence it — or at least turn its volume down.